On a Saturday morning in October, scores of LAFD families were forced indoors by a sudden rain storm just before the annual tribute to our own fallen firefighters. Normally held at the Memorial Wall out front of the Hollywood Fire Museum, this year’s gathering was moved upstairs to the cavernous dormitory of Old Fire Station 27. The close quarters made for a very intimate experience for those who braved the inclement weather to honor the 268 members of our Department who have made the ultimate sacrifice in their service to the City.
When the chiefs, chaplains and dignitaries concluded their remarks to the solemn crowd, a lone trumpet tapped out a familiar melody in humble reverence and then ten bells reverberated through the ageless firehouse.
Valerie Lawrence and Diane Vigil were given an opportunity to speak about the LAFRA Family Support Group during the ceremony. Valerie is the surviving spouse of Capt. John Lawrence. She related that “the memorial spot here has a special place in my heart. My late husband John was working here at the old 27’s when I met him while his crew was putting out an auto fire on Barham. He was a rookie at the time. His captain sent him over to meet me and told him if he didn’t come back with a phone number he would never pass probation. In short, I have had 43 years experience with the LAFD, and have seen and honored the Fire Department traditions.”
“The long-time tradition of taking care of our own,” continued Val, speaking from her own experience, “is an important part of belonging to the Fire Family. We are standing here with you and your families today and know that you have lost more than a spouse, son or daughter. We know that your spouse, daughter or son was a functional part of your household and can never be replaced. I miss the little things that made life so special with John – working in the yard together, painting the house. Without him, I had to learn to back-up the trailer into the driveway on my own.”
This year Val and Diane traveled with the Moorman family to the Memorials in both Colorado Springs and Sacramento. The names of Dave Moorman and Kelly Wong were added to the walls there. Diane recalls, “I had the pleasure of accompanying my husband Joe to the IAFF Fallen Firefighter Memorial honoring Matt McKnight in 2015. I noticed several little details, that as a woman, I thought could be done just a little bit better. I spoke with Rick Godinez about this, but it wasn’t until I sat down with Lori Harris, widow of Bret Harris, that I realized just how much we needed to do to help our widows. The seed was planted. Thankfully the Relief Association decided to create the group, and Valerie and I are honored to be included.
“Currently, the Los Angeles City Fire Department has more than 800 widows. In addition to assisting families at the memorial ceremonies, we have gathered 200 volunteer fire members to help our widows. This could be as simple as driving them to doctor appointments, putting boxes up in the garage, assistance with some heavy furniture, light painting, small plumbing issues, you name it.”
Maybe you didn’t know that every year the families of members killed in the line of duty attend this memorial ceremony. Now that you do, would you honor them with your presence at next year’s event?
By Valerie Lawrence and Diane Vigil
Photos by David Blaire